Whatever a scene of the crime of child sex trafficking looks like, surely it isn’t Wichita and Kansas. Yet such crimes happen here and in hometowns everywhere, which is why local, state and federal law enforcement must continue to protect children from exploitation.
The FBI announced Monday that its enforcement push over the past week in 106 cities, including Wichita, had rescued nearly 170 victims and arrested 281 pimps on state and federal charges. Police in Topeka, Manhattan and the Kansas City area also were involved.
According to police, a 16-year-old Wichita girl was taken into protective custody as part of the operation, while a 25-year-old Texas man who’d been living in Wichita was arrested.
“The biggest change we have seen in eight years has been the increasing prevalence of children being sold online,” said FBI Director James Comey.
That threat underscores the continuing need for the Sedgwick County-administered Kansas Internet Crimes Against Children task force. The latest $293,000 grant proposal from the U.S. Justice Department won the endorsement of the Sedgwick County Commission last week, after Col. Richard Powell of the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office made a compelling case for renewing it to help fund personnel to work with the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit. Among his sobering talking points:
• Kansas has 7,324 registered sex offenders; 1,400 of them, or 19 percent, live in Sedgwick County.
• Kansas has seen an increase in domestic minor sex trafficking. During 2013-14, Wichita-Sedgwick County EMCU has identified 44 victims and 31 suspects in such cases, the majority of which involved technology-facilitated prostitution.
• Authorities see the perpetrators using the Internet for advertising and using social media to recruit victims.
County Commissioner Tim Norton applauded the task force’s work and stressed that it will be important as the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County moves toward being free-standing and fully multidisciplinary. He lamented that “people can log on and be predatory towards our children from anywhere in the world.”
“This is the dark side of technology,” said County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, cautioning that the nature of the challenge will change rapidly as technology does.
The Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University is another crucial local asset engaged in this fight, which also got a boost from a 2013 law increasing penalties for sex trafficking and help for its victims.
One shocking revelation of the FBI announcement was that many of the children had never been reported missing – a sad reflection of the low value placed on some young lives under certain socioeconomic circumstances in the U.S.
With each investigation, rescue and arrest, authorities can stand up for these victims and demonstrate that nobody, least of all a child, deserves to be sexually exploited.